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Shiitake Mushroom and Sausage Stuffed Shells in a Coconut Pumpkin Sauce

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Hello All!

It’s finally cold enough in California to bake. The winter and fall have definitely been  mild and hot. Today it was a crisp 67 degrees outside. That’s right, this is what I have to call “crisp” weather. In any case, I took full advantage and decided to use up the tons of canned pumpkin I recently purchased from Trader Joe’s. I’ve seen similar recipes around, using the pumpkin as a creamy alternative to many sauces. I’ll be making spaghetti and pumpkin soon!

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Stuffed Shells in Pumpkin Sauce

  • approx 14 jumbo shells, already cooked and cooled
  • 6 oz of shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and caps chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese  (full fat please)
  • 1 1/2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix!)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups of monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper or foil and lightly, and I do mean lightly oil. Add the butter and some oil (so the butter doesn’t brown or burn) to a skillet. Once the oil is heated through, add the mushrooms and let them brown, turning over maybe 3 times, for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add the pumpkin and coconut milk to a 3 quart pan and set on medium-low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a simmer.

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Place the ricotta in a bowl, and add the mushrooms when they are ready. Do not set on a paper towel before adding, even if some butter gets in, that’s fine, this is cold weather, delicious, good, rib-sticking food we’re making. Take the sausage and with your fingers pull off small 1/4 inch pieces. Brown on medium heat for 6-7 minutes, turning once. If you like, you can de-glaze the pan once the meat has had a chance to brown with either Port, Vermouth, or Marsala wine.

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Add the sausage to the ricotta and season again with salt and pepper. Add in 1 cup of Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

Once the pumpkin-coconut milk sauce comes to a simmer add in some salt and pepper to taste, the cinnamon, paprika, garlic, and cornstarch. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Stir and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 3 minutes.

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Add a ladle of the pumpkin sauce to the bottom of the baking dish. Take a shell in your hand and with the other use a soup spoon to fill it with the ricotta stuffing. Layer evening into the pan. Cover with remaining sauce (be careful not to completely drench the shells; I recommend using a ladle to pour it over the shells) and sprinkle on the monterey jack cheese. At this point you can also add some bacon/ panchetta to crisp up on top, or more Parmesan cheese. Whatever you like!

Bake in the over for 20-22 min.

Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

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I have a confession. First, I have never made chicken salad. Second, I don’t think until I’ve tried a waldorf salad I ever thought that a chicken salad could be delicious. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that when you add chicken, lemon juice, walnuts, and the kitchen sink you’ll get magic. And that’s exactly what happened.

You can omit whatever you like from the below recipe but I just thought what would be appealing, both visually, texturally, and …. well that’s it.

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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

(makes approx 6 cups)

  • 2 chicken breasts, boiled in salted water and diced/ cubed
  • 3 tbsp nigella seeds, or black sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup or more of pomegranate seeds
  • About a handful of shredded sweet cabbage
  • juice from one lemon
  • generous salt and pepper shaking
  • approx 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • approx 1 1/2 cups grapes, cut in half
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
  • 2 cups of light mayo
  • 2 tbsp dried basil

Start off by dicing the chicken, if you haven’t already done so. Make sure that it’s not just in cubes, but in actual small pieces, the size of a grape, no larger. This really helps with the consistency of most salads you’re used to, like in the markets or restaurants. Add in the nigella and pomegranate seeds. Add in the cabbage (mine was already pre-shredded thanks to Trader Joe’s) and squeeze the juice of a lemon over the whole thing; add zest if you like as well. I was too lazy to be honest. 

Add the salt and pepper and mix together.

Add in the walnuts, grapes (cut in half), celery and basil. Finish off with Mayo. Stir until everything is coated. Add or decrease the amount of the mayo based on your taste. About 2 cups was just right for me to coat everything and not be COVERED in the mayo. Which would be too overpowering. If you can’t find pomegranate seeds, I’d recommend adding in apples for added crunch. 

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Lamb Bolognese

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Yesterday was my first time cooking with lamb. I decided to start small and go with ground lamb. I figured I could do a number of things with easy and versatile meat product. I thought about making meatloaf, meatballs, or a pasta sauce. Pasta always wins out for me. Always.

I started off making this more Italian, but the spices I continued to reach for made it more Middle Eastern. Maybe some Indian influence? Not really sure, but it sure did turn out amazing! By the looks of the ingredients this is obviously not a traditional bolognese sauce. But aside from the spices, it’s almost the same. I added in my own spices (as mentioned previously), and I subbed in the half-and-half for the whole milk you usually add.

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Lamb Bolognese

  •  1 small onion, minced
  • olive oil and butter (approx 1 tbsp each)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp of paprika (or less, but I like the smokiness that it brings to meat)
  • 1-2 tsp of chili powder (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp various dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage, or rosemary
  • 1 can tomato sauce (14 oz ones)
  • 1 tbsp of raw sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 tbsp of molasses
  • 1/4-1/3 cup of half-and-half (depending on your sauce preference, more is less thick and creamy, I used 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

Start off my heating a heavy bottomed pot (about 3 quarts). I recommend a cast iron, those typically work the best with sauces. Take out your meat from the fridge and allow to rest. This takes the chill out of the meat and ensures even cooking (I read that just this morning, and lucky that I had done it completely unaware of its benefits).

Add the oil and butter when the pot is nice and hot.

Add in the onions and allow to brown. Do not add in the salt at this stage. After five minutes or so (the onions should be nice and golden), add in the lamb with the spices. Coat everything in the butter-oil mixture. Make sure the meat gets a chance to brown; stir it infrequently, and break apart into smaller chunks. After about 10 minutes add the herbs and tomato sauce. Stir in the sugar and allow to melt in.

Add the molasses and the half and half.

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Simmer on medium-low for twenty minutes. Stir about every 8 minutes or so, just to ensure the meat is getting evenly coated in the tomato sauce. Taste at this point and determine if you need more salt, more pepper, or maybe even more sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

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Take off the heat when the sauce has thickened and is nice and fragrant. Stir in the parmesan cheese. Top with pasta of your choosing. I would recommend small shells, rotini, or any other twisted pasta to catch the sauce in.

When serving sprinkle more parmesan cheese.

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The Apples are Here

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I was finally able to go apple picking this past weekend, and take a dear friend with me whose never yet experienced the joy of freshly picked apples, and the frustration when you cannot find one.

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Needless to say we didn’t give up, and ended up with some lovely apples. Not to mention some lovely snacks along the way. Nothing perks up the spirits like cider donuts and apple burritos.

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Instead of the traditional desserts I decided to start cooking, and working with, my apples in a savory way first. I can always make my apple butter and pies later. That being said, I introduce my apple stuffed pork chops and roasted potatoes with apples and halloumi.

Apple Stuffed Pork Chops (for one)

  • individual pork chop, approx an inch thick, and cut almost through halfways
  • half a small apple, sliced, with skin on
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup dry vermouth
  • 4 mushrooms (approx) sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp of roughly chopped fresh dill, optional (for garnish)

Start off my warming your skillet with oil and butter. You can always omit the butter, but I like the flavors of browned butter with the meat juices, it makes for a deeper flavored glaze. Stuff the pork chops with apples and place in skillet.

Make sure not to cut halfways all the way across as the top  meat piece won’t stay on well when you’re stuffing and searing the meat.

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As soon as the chops are in the pan season the top side with allspice, salt and pepper, and garlic powder. Cook for about 5-7 min a side. When flipping over for a second time, add in the mushrooms and vermouth. Cover, and let cook down for another 6 minutes.

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Uncover, and allow to sit with heat still on for 3 minutes to let some of the juices evaporate.

Serve with roasted potatoes and apples and a sprinkling of dill.

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Roasted Potatoes with Apples and Halloumi Cheese

  • Approx 4 yellow potatoes, cut into chunks
  • two apples cut into chunks with skin on (same sized chunks as the potatoes please)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • garlic cloves , crushed (as many as you like, I used about four)
  • granulated onion powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • approx 6 slices of halloumi cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix all ingredients except for Halloumi, in an oven safe container. Top with Halloumi and whatever herbs you find fit. I didn’t add any but rosemary and thyme or even some marjoram would be nice here. Please use fresh as dried wouldn’t work well in the oven and dry out too  much.

Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes unless everything is cooked through and apples are very soft and almost caramelized.

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Asparagus and Potato Tart with Honey

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Who would have thought that honey would work so well with roasted asparagus, laying lusciously  on a bed of mashed buttermilk potatoes? I did not, but then inspiration struck, and boy am I glad that it did!

I’ve been looking through my french cookbooks, and sadly, while this is something that would come from a french cookbook it was inspired by Jamie Oliver. I believe the book I was looking at was At Home with Jamie, and I saw a photo (that’s all it took), with some white asparagus laying on a very velvety mound of mashed potatoes, encompassed in some puff pastry. I thought to myself, hell, I can do that, and so I did.

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Asparagus Tart with Potatoes and Honey

  • about 16 asparagus soldiers, trimmed of the tough stems
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes ( I added buttermilk when making mine, to make sure it was extra creamy)
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • salt and pepper, to taste (If mashed potatoes are not seasoned)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • parmesan cheese, approx 1/4 cup
  • clover honey, how much you use is to your taste, or omit

Season mashed potatoes with salt and pepper, or wait to season (if not already seasoned) till it’s laid out on the pastry sheet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and grease. Lay out the puff pastry sheet (store bought is perfectly fine). Score the sheet so you get a 1/2 inch border. Make sure you use a sharp knife but don’t cut all the way through the pastry sheet. you can also use a fork to prick the sheet in the  middle to ensure it doesn’t get puffy with the ingredients on it.

Dollop the mashed potatoes on the sheet, making sure not to go over the border line. Smooth it out to an even layer of potatoes all around the pastry sheet.

Add the asparagus, laying them gently and closely together to make a line across the potatoes. You can add these in any lines you like: vertical, horizontal, or even diagonally. I did mine horizontally, but I rotated from left to right so it so that every other spear touched the left or the right side of the border (to get asparagus in every bite, essentially).

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-17 minutes. Make sure the pastry boarder is puffing but isn’t get golden. Turn up the temperature up to 400 degrees F and bake for another 5 minutes or so. Checking to make sure the edges don’t burn.

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Take out and let rest two minutes. Drizzle with honey (I used organic clover honey, but any honey flavor will work here. I expect avocado honey will be especially amazing here), then let sit for another 4-5 minutes to allow honey to get slightly absorbed. Cut into squares and serve.

Don't mind that shiny thing in the corner, that's my knife. I couldn't resist a bite!

Don’t mind that shiny thing in the corner, that’s my knife. I couldn’t resist a bite!

Chocolate Chip Cookies of a Lifetime

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Going along with this weeks earlier post on tea time and scones, morning coffee is not the same without something sweet to munch on. Sure I can go with drinking a cup of coffee after I’m done with my cereal, but a nice bit of sugar right before I leave the door sometimes gets me through the harder times of the day. These cookies are perfect for that. Chewy and gooey and made in less than an hour, I couldn’t ask for me.

Granted, I’ve made chocolate chip cookies before, however, I’m still searching for the perfect, and the best recipe possible. The one that should be my go-to recipe for birthdays and potlucks and lonely Saturday nights, and I think this might be it.

Cookies taken directly from The Little White Kitchen

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Chocolate Chip Cookies 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (or hard margarine), room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 white sugar
  • 2 eggs , room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla (i love vanilla)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (you can also add nuts, toffee bits, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

I n a mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugars until fluffy (making sure your butter is room temperature really helps the process go smoothly). Add both eggs and mix until incorporated. Mix in your vanilla.
In a separate bowl, use a whisk to mix together your flour, salt and baking soda. Pour your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Spoon the cookie dough into tablespoon sized balls (about 3 inches apart) onto your cookie sheet (do not grease the cookie sheets, but feel free to use parchment paper if you don’t like to wash pans afterwards).

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes (depending on the size of the cookies and whether or not you like them well done)
on the center rack of your oven.

Remove cookie sheets from the oven and place them on cooling racks (do not try to remove the cookies at this point or you’ll end up with a gooey mess).

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Let cool for about 10 minutes on the cookie sheets and then remove the cookies and place them on a cooling rack.

Eat the cookies whenever you need a pick me up, or the world gets you down.

An English Tea Deserves Scones

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Now that LAUSD is out of session– yay summer– and I have a fairly regular working schedule that’s keeping me busy, yet open enough to do anything and everything in the mornings and afternoons, I decided instead of eating a very late lunch (after 3pm), I’d instead have a decent tea to hold me over till dinner.

I know 3 pm is also too late for a “traditional” tea, but I’m at work during the regular hours. An hour late won’t hurt, right? I love tea, I love clotted cream, jam, cookies and scones so why not? Firstly, I need scones. The ones in this post were a little dry, partly because of the oven temperature, however, the second batch was a lot better. Below is the adjusted temperature for the lovely muffins. Note that I also subbed in orange zest for lemon, and omitted the use of the glaze. I really don’t need it in presence of syrup and clotted cream. That’s enough calories for me, thank you.

Strictly Based on The Messy Baker scones.

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Blueberry Orange Scones

  • 2½ cups white whole wheat flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbs. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1¼ cups fat-free buttermilk
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (do not thaw frozen blueberries)
For the Glaze- I omitted
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 3½ tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles very coarse sand (the mixture will still be a bit dry).

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In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, Greek yogurt, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Gently fold in the blueberries. Scoop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet using a large ice cream scoop.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the scones are golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Drizzle the glaze onto the slightly warm scones or slice open and serve with clotted cream, jam, and or syrup or honey.

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Glaze
In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and lemon zest. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.